I moved into my new apartment alone, but full of anticipation. A long line of white doors and blue trimmed windows led up to the manager’s office where I paid my $75 in cash plus a $25 cleaning deposit, and I unburdened my ‘64 International pickup truck of clothes on hangers, a few pots and pans, and musty bedding. I was alone in my own first real “home,” and I felt good.
I had few visitors while I lived at Rogueland Apartments – maybe due to how few I invited over. My best friend came sometimes, and his sister. Another friend moved in to share the rent – and it lasted two whole days. I couldn’t abide his late nights.
It was my habit to leave a scratchy clock radio on all night, and I usually dozed off at about 10 or so on weekdays. My job at a cabinet shop started at 7 a.m., and Perry Como sang his opening song, Our Father Who Art in Heaven every morning at 6. His mellow verses set my day right, and I usually rode my bicycle the two miles to Grants Pass, with “the kingdom and the power and the glory….”
A foreman named “Bugs” hired me at Diamond Industries. I had snuck past the office lady a time or two to bug Bugs about a job. He liked my moxie, and hired me to run a panel saw that required a keen eye for measurements and a strong back to slap 4×8 sheets of particle board vertically against its frame, two at a time. The 12-inch circular saw blade screamed through the sheets like butter, and I stacked the special cuts in carts to be stapled together as kitchen cabinets.
The lunch buzzer at Diamond meant that I had a half-an-hour to wolf down a peany-butter sandwich that I had tossed in a plastic bag, and I usually ate alone at a long, green wooden table in the lunch room. I knew most everyone in my department, and I wore an old white hat in those days, a roll-up that somehow just fit my lifestyle – casual, cocky, cautious. I had been on my own for a year or two, and I could usually sell my “style” anywhere, to anyone who needed convincing.
After work, I pedaled back to Rogueland – my home, a hole in the wall by most standards, yet a safe place to cogitate about my future, and eat watermelon, my favorite dessert, after a dinner of canned goods. I sometimes think that I could have been happy alone at Rogueland for most of my life with my little wall heater, twin bed and refrigerator – but something just wasn’t finished.
I had met Carol at a church potluck – figures. She shined through me like a lightning bolt and lit something formerly satisfied, until I couldn’t just live out my aloneness alone anymore. As warm as Rogueland was, it wasn’t hot – and I needed “hot,” though I didn’t know it when I moved in.
A block away a phone booth stood like a neon guidepost, and sometimes I used it to find a ride somewhere or set up a Friday night movie with a friend. A lot had happened since meeting Carol at the potluck – most of it annoying, frightening, shocking. Two weeks earlier her father had accosted me in my little apartment – with two police officers who threatened to jail me.
For just a night Carol had moved into Rogueland with me, hiding from her abusive father – it seemed her only way out. And somehow I forgot to consult a preacher, or justice of the peace, or her folks when we committed to stay together forever.
No one knew about our vows to one another but us and God. My little place sizzled, and no one knew about that either. Well, it all lasted until her dad and the cops came, and tried to quash our teenage promises to each other.
Now I stood inside the phone booth clutching the phone, an 18-year-old penniless sawyer wishing that my 17-year-old soul mate might be on the other end of the line—but it was her distraught mother instead.
“I have decided that you can marry Carol, Richard….”
Something had changed – besides how cold my little apartment felt; besides my appetite dwindling away; besides my sleepless nights. Something between Carol’s parents had finally imploded, thank God. And we married the official way, the right way, the best way, with friends and family all praying that we would somehow beat the odds and “make it.”
Rogueland became more than a home for me then. Amid unopened boxes of Tupperware, blenders, and toasters Carol and I plotted our escape into life, safely wrapped in one another’s dreams. She cuddled with me in front of the little wall heater before we slept each night, and we woke to Our Father Who Art in Heaven, together.
The lunch she packed for me tasted heavenly, and my fellow cabinet makers gave me knowing smiles as they read the words inked deep on the brim of my roll-up hat: “MY CAROL.”
At the end of each day, while we lived at Rogueland, Carol shared my aloneness with me. She sweetened my life with giant jars of honey and a mysterious blend of loving confections.
After 40 years together, we live in a place barely grander than our Rogueland apartment, and she still shares my aloneness—except on days when our house is chock-full of grandchildren.